I’m delighted to share with you the introduction to my new book ‘Beginnings: A Guide to child psychology and development for parents of 0-5 yr olds’.
I know too well how tempting it is to follow the magic sleep plan your friend with the perfect sleeping baby has followed. I know what it feels like to second, third and fourth guess your choices. Your parenting style is meant to make your baby MORE confident, but she’s only becoming clingier. What did you do wrong to create such a needy and anxious little boy? The answer is – absolutely nothing. NOTHING you have done has created a ‘bad sleeper’.
Sleep training tends to punish babies and toddlers for problems that don’t belong to them. They are left to cry, put down while they still need a hug, denied milk when they are hungry and ignored when they most need comfort. I don’t actually believe any parent wants this for their children, yet their exhaustion leaves them with no other choice. Or so they think. There are in fact, many ways to gently improve infant sleep that don’t involve any sleep training at all. Here are eight of them:
We (‘we’ meaning society) seem to think that baby sleep is linear. By that I mean we seem to think that it gets better as babies grow older. Or at least we believe it is static, ie. it won’t get worse again. The thing is, it’s not linear (certainly not in an upwards trajectory) and it’s not static. It goes up and down (mostly down in the first year). This is entirely normal and very, very common…
Is it possible to work with a baby’s sleep gently? Absolutely, because in every case it is not the baby that needs changing or fixing, it is usually something the parent is, or isn’t doing. That said, it is only possible to change sleep gently to a biologically appropriate level. The fact remains that babies don’t sleep through the night, while that may be a problem for parents in our busy world, the reality is there is normally nothing wrong with the baby.
This talk of ‘sleeping through the night’ must end, it is factually inaccurate. This myth and misinformation pathologises normal infant sleep and turns it into something problematic that needs fixing. The fact is, the baby achieves nothing from being taught to be quiet while they transition between sleep cycles, the benefit here is solely for the parents.
The goal is to tuck the child in, read them a story, give them a goodnight kiss and leave the bedroom shortly after, with the child still awake. Watch any film, soap or drama on TV and any bedtime will look exactly like this. The child sweetly replies with their “goodnight”, yawns, turns their head over on the pillow, eyes close and not a peep is heard from them until the next morning.
Many will know me as an author who advocated being as child led as possible as much as possible, particularly when it comes to sleep. I expect therefore that this post will surprise quite a few.
The mainstay of almost all baby sleep training is the idea of teaching ‘self soothing’ or ‘self settling’. This approach believes that if babies are put down ‘drowsy but awake’ and parents do not rush in to feed or rock when they wake, that the baby will learn to settle back to sleep without parental input.
One of the questions I’m most commonly asked is “when do children grow out of the need to sleep with somebody?”, or in other words – when do children naturally outgrow bedsharing?